Before I identified as a New Yorker, during my salad days on the North Shore of Massachusetts, I fantasized about moving here — the exhausting summer days, narrated by the superfluous chit-chat of haute-as-hell socialite-types over Negronis at Locanda Verde and the half-baked sales pitches of the drained and destitute; not to mention the nostril-stinging stench of the boiling hot city air. From above, in the summertime, the streets of New York look like grill marks on a massive hunk of meat.
It’s hotter than the devil’s smartphone in New York between the months of June and September, and with a population of nearly nine million people, the need for some damn relief is pretty huge. New Yorkers can cool off in one of 34 outdoor pools, 19 outdoor mini-pools and 12 indoor pools in the New York City parks system. They’re all free and open to the public throughout the summer until Labor Day.
Despite the fact that the city is mostly surrounded by water, you won’t find anyone swimming off the shores of New York. That’d be nasty. These rivers suffer from ongoing pollution issues caused by PCB contamination, accidental and non-accidental sewage discharges, urban runoff, heavy metals, furans, dioxin, pesticides, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. You know, shit that makes mutant fish and whatnot.
I’m not saying people should ever swim in the toxic rivers but wouldn’t it be nice? A few dudes in Brooklyn think it’s a cool idea, so they’re planning to build a plus sign-shaped pool, appropriately named Plus Pool, that’ll float in New York’s surrounding waters. What’s nuts is the thing will actually be filled with river water that it’ll have cleaned because, what the hell, it’s a huge filter, too.
Like a giant strainer dropped into the river, Plus Pool filters out bacteria, contaminants and odors as river water passes through its walls. The filtration device, made of polypropylene, non-woven geotextile, which kind of looks and feels like felt, is divided into three main layers, each one designed for consecutively smaller contaminants. This layering strategy maximizes the performance of each material while progressively refining the quality of the water as it passes from river to pool.
Last year, the team – made up of graphic designers Archie Lee Coates IV and Jeffrey Franklin, founders of the Brooklyn-based design studio PlayLab, Inc and architect Dong-Ping Wong, director of the New York architecture firm Family – conducted on-site tests in the East River, observing 19 water quality parameters through different combinations of geotextiles.
With assistance from Columbia University, the team took samples three times a day for six weeks, collecting some of the most detailed water quality data ever taken in the East River and assessing the performance of the first layer of filtration on a day-to-day basis. The data from their first test showed a decrease of contaminants and pollutants across all parameters.
Right now, they’re working with the city, as well as famed innovation-lovers IDEO and the massive global engineering consulting firm Arup (Google them, you’re probably sitting somewhere they were involved in building) to hammer out the logistics of this thing. What’s amazing is the kind of love they’ve seen for the project, which kind of came together on a lark. They made nearly twice what they were asking through a Kickstarter campaign last year in under a week; now that they’ve completed the first rounds of design, feasibility and material testing, they’re gearing up for another round of fundraising with the hope of getting the pool in the water a couple of summers from now.
In this first episode of the new Motherboard show Futurestructures, Archie, Jeff and Dong describe what it’s like to be young designers with insane ideas and how, somehow, this thing is actually happening.